PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

"What do you want the PlayStation TV to do for you?" That's an important question when considering purchasing Sony's new microconsole. A more important question might be "Do you know what the PlayStation TV is?"

I ask because over the course of the past six days with the PlayStation TV, I've run into several people who had absolutely no idea. My wife, for starters, thought the PlayStation TV was an actual TV, and expressed surprise when I arrived home from Fedex with a package the size of a small shoebox. Later my nephew, who often watches my children for me while I work, asked why I didn't test the system out with them.

"But they're three."

"So?"

"It's a game machine? They're not quite there yet."

"Oh, I thought it was like a cable box."

It is not a television. It is not a cable box. It is not a tablet, or a food processor or the latest teen singing sensation. So what is it?

What It Is

The PlayStation TV is a small black box that connects to a television set via HDMI cable. Inside of that box are the guts of a PlayStation Vita handheld gaming system. It features a plug to connect to a wired network (built-in wireless as well), a USB port, a socket for the power adaptor and two slots, one for a proprietary Sony memory card and one that accepts retail Vita games.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Plugging the unit into your television set and powering it on allows the user to stare at a setup screen for a few moments before remembering the unit does not include the Dualshock 3 or 4 controller required to use it. The $US99 standalone unit expects the consumer to already own one of these PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 controllers, which is as keen an indicator of the target demographic of the PlayStation TV as any. While there is a bundle on offer that includes the unit, a Dualshock 3 controller, a (too small) 8GB memory card and a download voucher for the Vita version of The LEGO Movie Video Game, this is a product being sold primarily as an accessory to an existing PlayStation.

Now that we know what the PlayStation TV is, what exactly does one do with it? A common misconception I've come across over the past week or so is that the PlayStation TV can do anything a Vita can, with the exception of games requiring use of the portable's front touch screen, rear touch pad, camera or microphone. While the second half of that statement is true, the first part isn't wholly accurate.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Containing the same guts as the PlayStation Vita, theoretically any entertainment app that can run on the Vita should be able to run on the PlayStation TV. That said, the PlayStation TV's app selection is incredibly limited at launch -- just Crunchyroll and Crackle, really -- and while applications for more popular apps such as Netflix and Hulu are available for the Vita, those apps will not yet run on the PlayStation TV. It will stream movies and television shows from the Sony Entertainment Network, but no one wants to do that.

Rather than harp on what the PlayStation TV can't do, let's take a look at...

What The PlayStation TV Can Do

It plays PlayStation Vita games.

Much criticism has been raised over the "limited" library or PlayStation TV compatible Vita games since the unit originally launched in Japan as the Vita TV. Indeed, the official list of compatible titles from Sony Computer Entertainment America only lists some 143 games.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Obviously a gamer's PlayStation TV mileage as far as Vita games go will depend on how well that list coincides with their personal taste. Being a fan of Japanese role-playing games and other quirky titles that have only made their way to the West on Sony's portable, I'm incredibly pleased with what I can now play on my television. The games I've loaded have all run beautifully, with minimal blurring or jagginess from being blown up big.

Just beware of games that didn't get the PlayStation TV memo and still ask players to tap or swipe the screen to continue. They generally mean 'tap the start button'.

It plays PlayStation Portable games.

The Previous Sony Portable's PSTV compatible library is a respectable 264 titles. Basically, if it's for the PSP and it's available on the PlayStation Network, it can be played on the little black box. Considering the PSP was even more of a haven for Japanese fare, the PlayStation TV is really shaping up to be the $US99 JRPG dream box.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Will there be jaggies? Yes, such jaggies will there be. The PSP screen wasn't meant for such largeness, and in 3D-centric games it shows. Having long used a TV adapater for my PSP to capture footage, I knew what to expect and wasn't really shocked.

It plays PS One Classics.

Some 129 games from the original PlayStation are purchasable and playable on the PlayStation TV. That's all of the Final Fantasies, Chrono Cross, Xenosaga, a bunch of Mega Man, Cool Boarders, Jet Moto -- all the greats.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

It can Remote Play PlayStation 4 games.

Like the PlayStation Vita, the PlayStation TV can stream Remote Play capable PlayStation 4 games -- just not quite as well. With my Vita, as long as I have a relatively strong wireless signal I can stream my PS4 games with minimal lag. With the PlayStation TV I could barely play until I had both the PS4 and the PSTV wired to the same router. I'd imagined the exact same functionality as I enjoyed with the Vita, only on a big screen in another room. That's not quite what I got.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Yes, my network configuration might be to blame, but I'm not alone in having trouble connecting the two systems for a lag-free-ish experience. I have years of network troubleshooting experience under my belt as well -- the average consumer does not.

And then there's the PlayStation TV's technical limitations. Once everything is set up properly, the convenience of playing PlayStation 4 games in another room is offset by the fact that the PlayStation TV does not output in 1080p -- 720p or 1080i is the best it can do. That, and it does not support surround sound, only outputting two channels.

My struggle getting the PlayStation TV and PlayStation 4 on good speaking terms put a serious dent in my opinion of the unit in this capacity. It's not the magic box I expected it to be.

It can stream games through PlayStation Now.

Sony's streaming game service went into open beta the day of the PlayStation TV's release, and the two go together quite well. With a wired connection and a willingness to spend a slightly smaller amount of money on a timed rental than I'd pay for a physical copy of many of the available games, the PlayStation Now is very playable on the PlayStation TV. I'm not a huge fan of the service, but it indeed works.

It can stream TV shows and movies.

It can, but as mentioned above the options are incredibly limited at this time. You've got Sony's Video Unlimited dealio, Crackle, Crunchyroll's streaming anime service and some sort of concert streaming app that barely counts.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

Between the limited variety and the system's technical limitations, this is not a microconsole to purchase for media streaming. Both the $US99 Apple TV and the $US99 Amazon Fire TV output at full 1080p with surround sound (optical outputs and everything), and offer a broad range of popular streaming services -- Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime (Fire TV), iTunes (Apple TV). The Fire TV even offers Android games, in case you're looking for a bit more interactivity.

It can transform your TV into a world of ugly bubbles.

The PlayStation Vita user interface was kind of cute on a portable system. On a big screen TV? Not so much.

PlayStation TV: The Kotaku Review

This is an interface designed for clumsy thumbs. It's a poor use of screen real estate. It's sloppy. The first time I had to delete a game to make room for another, the empty space glaring back at me from the screen was jarring.

Navigation with a Dualshock controller works well enough, but again, it's jarringly obvious this menu system was not designed with a television-based device in mind.

It can fall off of the entertainment stand.

Measuring a mere 2.6" x 4.1" x .5" and weighing under four ounces, the PlayStation TV is a freakishly small thing. A freakishly small thing with heavy cables plugged into the back of it. I've fished it out from behind my entertainment stand four times now. It should come with a suction cup.

That's what the PlayStation TV will do, which brings us back around to the original question.

What do you want the PlayStation TV to do for you?

The PlayStation TV does many things, but it only does a select few of them consistently well. The PlayStation 4 streaming is inconsistent. The video streaming lacks variety. Both of those suffer from the system's video and audio hardware limitations. There's a lot of compromise involved in picking one up for those reasons.

The PlayStation TV is built with the innards of a PlayStation Vita, and it's at its best when its doing what Sony's portable was built to do -- playing Vita and PSP games. Even then there's a lot of compromising to do. The library is smaller than many would like, and some of the portable system's best games (Tearaway) were built to take advantage of its unique features, features that aren't available on the PlayStation TV.

There are two types of people I feel will be able to get the most out of the PlayStation TV. The people who look through the software compatibility list and get as excited as I did at the prospect of playing some of the amazing games that made the cut on a big screen for the first time (or again, in some cases), and people that really enjoy fishing rectangular plastic blocks from behind their TV stand.


Comments

    I think this might go the way of the PSPGO. Fading away into obscurity after a confusing launch period.

      It's an answer to a question nobody asked.

        I kind of thought it was the answer to the oft-asked 'why no video out on the Vita?'

    I was hoping it would be an Apple TV replacement for streaming my content from PC to TV. The Apple TV randomly decides if it wants to play Dolby digital, or randomly decides to just not work some days.

    If the streaming worked well it would be a must have.

    Last edited 20/10/14 2:15 pm

      XBMC on a raspberry pi or an old pc. Combined with yatse app as a remote on your phone is the best media centre you could hope for imo. It will play just about anything you throw at it. I'm pretty sure it even supports airplay.

      I honestly think there is maybe like, one person who works on developing for Apple TV, I swear to god.

        Lol......I agree. Apple TV has all the potential in the world. I'd be happy to pay twice as much for something that works.

        To others, I don't want a PC in my living room, and I have multiple TVs that need to feed from a singular source.

          Raspberry pi w/ wireless hooked back to a nas\your pc works a treat. Its tiny, fanless (ie quiet), cheap as well and it works for anything. It's nothing as bulky a PC. Google it

            I know your right, I do. I should get into that.

            I thought it would be a good idea to jam my Rasp Pi into an old B&H 20's packet and people keep asking me why I have an old cigarette box sitting on my NAS...works a treat though.

      This is what I expected. DLNA, Hulu, Netflix, playtv extender, etc. It really is just a PSP for TV though.

    Hey, Does anyone know if this review was using an AUS PSN account? or overseas one?

    This is an interface designed for clumsy thumbs. It’s a poor use of screen real estate. It’s sloppy. The first time I had to delete a game to make room for another, the empty space glaring back at me from the screen was jarring. Navigation with a Dualshock controller works well enough, but again, it’s jarringly obvious this menu system was not designed with a television-based device in mind.

    This is something i don't get. I'm becoming confused as to why this is always considered an issue? Why full-blown articles are written about "screen real estate" with some incredibly scathing, forceful and judgmental discourse attached that make me feel like this actually matters but then find that either: a) the writer mentioned it's functionality and logistical are at least adequate or b) i find out through personal experience that these abstract concepts are irrelevant to most users/consumers.

    Is it that more people are engaging in web design these days and our discourse is evolving to accommodate? I just don't get why such a big deal is made of something that literally doesn't matter to the vast majority of people. I mean why are we getting so angry over aesthetics when functionality is fine? Aren't we told not to be that ignorant in almost every other area of life?

    Last edited 20/10/14 2:27 pm

      I think the author is justified in his criticism, UI is always a valid argument, my wife won't touch android because it's too technical for her to use (doesn't understand or use widgets, doesn't set them up, can't even set up wifi) . Space should always be utilised properly or a least to a positive effect, people make a living out of insuring a menu on an xbox or a magazine layout connects with the user and art, space, font and navigation are always paramount to success.

      I agree with the author that this is a valid critisism, as limiting the number of icons on a 5 inch screen makes sense, but when you could easily more than 10 on even a modest sized TV screen, it just means you have to scroll lots and that could be annoying...

    It should be noted that, as far as I've been able to tell, the package deal of a controller and memory card is a US deal only.

    Edit: The supported games list is also the US one, the Australian (EU one) is found here.

    Last edited 20/10/14 7:41 pm

    It really is confusing as to why Sony decided to launch this device in this state. A streaming device with 3 media apps for the U.S Launch. If you sign in with an Australian PSN account it might let you download Crunchyroll. Sadly i will probably get one of these so I can finish playing trough a few JRPG's i haven't been able to play since my vita broke :(

      Looking at this, you might be better off geting another Vita. At least its more portable, and compatable with all Vita, PSP and PS1 software.

        Yeah that is a bit of an issue. A few of my titles that i want to complete/go back to are not on the list. It doesn't help my decision that Sony released the Vita Slim at a higher price then the old Vita.

    It's actually a great little system to compliment your PlayStation (lifestyle?)

    I've been using it sporadically for two weeks or so, probably a bit longer than the reviewer considering I got the Asian version and the US version featured here was only released 5 days ago. As a home with a PS4 and a couple of Vita's (which are used at least as much as the PS4 due to my love of both Western and Eastern devs) I must say it fits in nicely. I don't always have access to the front room TV, we have a WiiU there and a 5 and 7yo who both like to use it. It's nice to be able to slip off into another room and stream my PS4 there or even to just play Vita or PSOne games on a big screen.

    This micro console is not a necessity but it is a luxury for those who are looking for it.

    Would be still interested to try one out I think. I have a pretty decent router at home, so streaming issues shouldn't be a problem.

    Last edited 20/10/14 3:28 pm

    ill stick to my vita and emulate the PSP games on PC, for the render resolution much higher making the game look way better

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the entire point of this thing be voided if they ported all Vita games to PS3/PS4? Like the author says, it's obviously aimed at someone that already owns one of these two.

    Just setting mine up now. Senran Kagura on the big screen awaits ;)

    If it had DLNA I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Oldschool games and decent media streaming? That's my idea of heaven. It's a shame. I know a pi will do it, but not without a bit of messing around.

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